Asda Case Study - Colleagues, Customers and Communities
If an organisation is investing time and money in development, there needs to be a return on that investment. If a piece of development, no matter how small, is to be deemed effective then it should have positive impact – on the participant, on those with whom they interact, on their organisation.
At Cranfield Executive Development we are obsessed with impact. The principles of Design for Impact™, conceived by Dr Wendy Shepherd, Cranfield’s Director of Individual and Organisational Impact enable us to create learning interventions that deliver tangible value for clients and enable understanding of why and how these outcomes were created. As part of that, we love connecting with participants to hear their personal stories of the impact our development has created, and why.
The Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship is a big investment, involving over 12 months of learning modules on key business topics. The programme is delivered both face-to-face and live-online, with written assignments, experiential on-the-job learning, and a collection of evidence of progress. One of the UK’s leading retailers, Asda, chose to give 23 senior colleagues the opportunity for personal and professional development via this rich and varied programme.
I interviewed four of these senior leaders; Chris Gilmartin, Clare Connelly-Spry, David Marshall and Liz Richards. In a series of three articles, we will share the experiences of these leaders in relation to impact.
In this first article they share examples of the effect this programme has had on the people around them, on Asda and their customers. In the second article we will look at the impact it has had on them personally, how it is helping them to get on in Asda. And in the final article we get under the skin of why this programme has been so effective.
Chris, a General Store Manager, was very candid in describing how the programme had brought so many external problems into sharp relief; the effect of Brexit, the terrible war in Ukraine, the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But he shared how having discussions about these realities had led the group to recognise the demographics, trends in employment and recruitment patterns in their industry. “It prompted me to start my Christmas recruitment much earlier. I recognised that if I was slow, then the best people would be snapped up by other retailers. As a result, we were far better resourced for servicing our customers this Christmas.”
Clare, a Senior Legal Manager, described how the engagement of external consultants, who may have less knowledge of regulatory requirements placed on supermarkets, requires diligence to ensure compliance. “This is hugely important, and time-consuming. So, I used the Systems Thinking approaches we had learnt, to develop a better understanding of how our commercial, legal and compliance teams work together with those external consultants.” Clare also drew upon her learning from the Stakeholder Management module. “So many of these teams are my stakeholders. I thought I knew a lot about my stakeholders but recognised I had become somewhat complacent. All of this helped me gain new perspectives, identify the root causes of issues, put controls in place to mitigate any potential, while at the same time helping the commercial team achieve their goals.”
"I thought I knew a lot about my stakeholders but recognised I had become somewhat complacent. All of this helped me gain new perspectives, identify the root causes of issues, put controls in place to mitigate any potential, while at the same time helping the commercial team achieve their goals.”
David, a Senior Manager in Automation, also described how he was thinking about his stakeholders differently, identifying who needs more of his time and why. He describes it as a continual process; “I need to understand what is important for someone at a particular point in time. A generic approach doesn’t work. It is very situational. And I stop myself from making assumptions about what stakeholders want. I am bringing them closer, inviting them into conversations about long-term future of buildings and machinery so that we can make better, more sustainable decisions.”
Sustainability was a module which had really hit home for David. Previously he had been unaware of the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals. “I now keep them in mind all the time” he told me, “and I bring them into conversations with stakeholders, and contract reviews with suppliers. The course has prompted me to do further research on the circular economy. We are now being much cleverer with reuse and remanufacture processes instead of just defaulting to the replacement of equipment. As a result, this financial year I am looking at savings of seven-figures for Asda.”
"We are now being much cleverer with reuse and remanufacture processes instead of just defaulting to the replacement of equipment. As a result, this financial year I am looking at savings of seven-figures for Asda.”
Sustainability is also now at forefront of Clare’s mind; “The module really challenged me, and it surprised me how little understanding and involvement we had. This is so important for us; it will now be a core part of my leadership practice. It features in my objectives, and it is now a key element in the objectives of my direct reports.”
All four leaders recognised the power of learning the skills of coaching on the programme. Chris had worked with a manager who had struggled to flex their communication style with the 20 people they had been leading. As a result of his coaching they successfully began applying a range of styles and has now moved to leading a group of 200. Clare said “I used to tell people what to do; now I give them the space to come up with their own ideas, and I have seen their confidence grow so much.”
“I used to tell people what to do; now I give them the space to come up with their own ideas, and I have seen their confidence grow so much.”
Customers and Community are central to Asda so we explored how the programme had impacted on them.
Liz, a General Store Manager, described how the Human Capital module had made her realise that “every conversation we hold has an impact on the customer. I have become more reflective. The customer is always at heart of what we do at Asda but I have slowed down to think far more about how customers perceive us.”
Liz is also the lead General Manager for Asda’s focus on “Community”, bringing together a group senior colleagues across Asda to drive forward initiatives that benefit the different communities who shop at Asda. “I brought what I had learnt on the programme to the Community Group. Not only did the programme give me a wealth of information and advice to share with them, but it helped me to create an innovation environment, a safe space for them to share their ideas. And it helped us all with the confidence to go and put these ideas into practice.”
Chris shared another example of how his experience on the programme has impacted on the Community. “We donate surplus food every week to community organisations as arranged by Fareshare, but the produce and bakery we donate doesn’t stay fresh for long. So, you need to get the food out quickly or it is wasted. I realised we could be doing this more effectively and brought together several colleagues who were all working on different parts of the same community agenda. Just by helping them to understand each other’s approaches, connect our networks, and develop ways to collaborate, our weekly surplus food donations to communities in need is now hitting almost 100%.”
"Just by helping them to understand each other’s approaches, connect our networks, and develop ways to collaborate, our weekly surplus food donations to communities in need is now hitting almost 100%.”
The Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship is helping Asda’s leaders have a positive impact on their stakeholders, their colleagues, their customers and their communities. In the next article we will explore the impact on their professional development – how the programme is helping those leaders to get on in Asda.
Discover more about the Cranfield Level 7 Senior Leader Executive Programme:
This interview was conducted as part of Cranfield's celebration of National Apprenticeship Week 2023